Words and Southwark Park – Part 1

by Pat Kingwell

It is a pleasure to make a contribution to the Southwark Festival of Words. I have an interest in Southwark Park, so thought it might be worth looking back in time to see how words have played their part in the long story of the borough’s oldest park.

It is possible that over the past century and a half as many words have been written or spoken about the place as there are blades of grass in its 25 hectares. This article will look at some examples from the early years 1856-1869, and then some more from 1998-2020. In doing so I touch upon the written word, such as memorials, letters, petitions, official reports, newspaper articles and creative works. I also refer to the spoken word used at public meetings, ceremonies and performances.

1856-1869

The park is so familiar to us now that it is hard to imagine it not existing, but that was the case until 1869, when it first opened to the public. The campaign to secure our local “green lung” started in earnest in April 1856, and was begun by the written word.

Southwark Park 1A memorial was presented to the Bermondsey Vestry, signed by over 250 of the principal inhabitants of the parish. The memorial was a very formal and respectful way of addressing an authority – in this case the local vestry, which was back then a limited type of local government. A statement of facts was usually accompanied by a petition or remonstrance. The message was clear enough – we live in an area with public health challenges and a park will help us meet them. Other places have a park, so why not us? Also, we don’t want to see too many houses built on the land, except for those working in the locality.  Read it in the words of 1856.

“To the Vestry of Bermondsey. We, the undersigned, being anxious and desirous for the improvement of the parish of Bermondsey, and the preservation of the public health, beg to call your attention to the necessity that exists for obtaining for this parish the advantages that are enjoyed in other districts.

It is well known that occasional epidemics have from time to time visited Bermondsey with greater severity than any other parish, entailing in addition to the sufferings of the poor an increase in the rates; that we attribute this greater severity in some measure to the unwholesomeness of the water used for domestic purposes – the proximity of the parish to the Thames, the laborious occupation of the workmen, and the absence of any public walks or park. That since the last epidemic, unwholesome water has been supplied, and it is hoped before long the Thames will be purified; that in nearly every other district around the metropolis grounds have been laid out for squares, public walks or parks; that there is in this parish at the present time a considerable open space used for market gardens, which might be obtained and converted into a park, but which otherwise in the course of a few years will be covered in houses and let to persons not engaged in the legitimate trades of this parish.

That this parish, being essentially a manufacturing one, it is not desirable to increase the number of dwelling-houses except for the accommodation of workmen and persons engaged in such trades.

That we request you to take such steps as you may deem advisable for the purpose of providing the public with a park or public walks in this parish.” 

The Bermondsey Vestry and the memorialists initially approached the government to build a park, but were advised by Sir Benjamin Hall, the First Commissioner of Works, that their best chance was to go to the recently established Metropolitan Board of Works for help.

Southwark Park 2

Sir Benjamin Hall (1802-1867)

Hall played his part by using words. He sent an important letter of support, in which he wrote “I am strongly of the opinion that it would be very desirable to have some large open space provided for the inhabitants of the South Eastern portion of the Metropolis …it is scarcely necessary to press on the Metropolitan Board the advantages to this neighbourhood of some easily accessible public place of recreation, most of the Members of the Board are acquainted with the district and know that there is no open space in which the poorer inhabitants can walk, still less enjoy exercise and recreation which has been found so beneficial in other neighbourhoods, the open space, walks, trees and turf of St. James’ Park, Hyde Park and Victoria Park must be still more beneficial in this neighbourhood and as every day the want of such a place of recreation is more felt on account of the increase in the number of houses there.”

Sir Benjamin Hall’s influential letter helped widen the park movement beyond Bermondsey. The case for a wider South-Eastern Park developed involving the representatives and inhabitants not only of Bermondsey, but also Rotherhithe, Southwark and Camberwell. In January 1857 the Board of Works published a vital document, the report of the Works and Improvements Committee, which officially recommended a park should be built. That rather innocuous looking item, just eight pages long, got us to where we are today, but not straightforwardly.

Southwark Park 3Although the report backed the idea of a park, it did not say exactly where in South London it should be. This was because there were two contending plans from the vestries of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, each with their powerful supporters and parochial interests. The former plan was the larger of the two and more expensive. The Board of Works hoped for a compromise proposal, but that did not come. Instead the second half of 1857 saw the public meeting become the place where a more dynamic expression of the people’s feelings on the subject were voiced. Between July and November 1857 several large public gatherings were held at which numerous enthusiastic speeches were made.

The one held in the grounds of the Dun Cow Tavern, Old Kent Road, on the evening of 6 July 1857, was typically eventful. It was attended by the two Southwark Members of Parliament, Admiral Sir Charles Napier and John Locke. Dr. John Challice, the eminent medical Officer of Health for Bermondsey, and writer of many medical advisory texts, presided. He said that upon the South-Eastern Park a good sermon could be preached. This he did not mean to do; but he would remind them that it was now or never that they should assert their right, their natural right, to the formation of this park, and those that did not now press that right, would regret that they had neglected to do so. As he spoke it rained with such force that the meeting adjourned into the spacious skittle saloon. The crowd was anxious to gain admittance, the doorway became choked up, and those who had already entered the saloon were somewhat surprised to see the gallant admiral make his way in through one of the windows.

Sir Charles said that if they looked around they would find that all had got parks with the exception of Southwark. He felt that Southwark had a great claim for a park. He did not say that to please them, as he was not in the habit of trying to please anybody (laughter). A great deal of money had been spent in the improvements of St. James’ Park …, and it was no doubt very pretty to see a clear stream in front of the palace, but if they could vote money for that, could they not do so for the benefit of the people at large!

John Locke made a forcible speech. He said he never heard anyone say anything against establishing a park, the only thing they could urge being that they did not like to subscribe their money (hear, hear). They therefore started with the fact that parks were good without any qualification…Had not public money been voted for Manchester and other parts, for the establishment of places of resort for the people? (Hear, hear) Did not their great metropolis afford to all who chose to come a chance of bettering or making their fortunes, and when they come, were they not warmly welcomed (cheers) and treated with the greatest friendship? …The metropolis had been spreading on all sides, and if they allowed that to go on without thinking of the health of the people, they would do that which no great city ever did without bringing destruction on the people. If they had a park brought to their own doors, there was no reason why they should not go into it, and enjoy the fresh air every day of the week. To tell them that because a park would cause a trumpery rate of three farthings in the pound to make it, that it should therefore, be refused, was an insult, and any man who urged it was an enemy to the people (hear, hear).

Fired by the words of Napier and Locke, Archibald Kintrea, a Camberwell vestryman, successfully moved a resolution which indicated a certain sense of injustice: “That the aristocracy and the gentry inhabiting other parts of the metropolis, have for years had the benefit of spacious parks made and maintained for them at the public expense, and this meeting feels that our numerous manufacturing and industrial population have a just right to demand a park for this district, to be made and maintained by a rate levied over the whole of the metropolis.”

Benjamin Young, gelatine manufacturer of Spa Road, seconded the resolution, saying he had lived in the district all his life. If they wanted an argument why the park should be established, let them look up the blind alleys in Tooley Street, Parker’s Row, Bermondsey Wall, Dockhead, and other places even more open, and they would find nothing but a mass of bricks and mortar. A man could not take his children into the fields because of the distance, and he therefore went by himself and had to travel a long time before he could catch sight of a bit of green. He then felt very tired, and to rest himself found refuge in a public house. The proposed park was a place for the poor man to take his exercise in, and for his children to see those beautiful flowers which otherwise would be a closed book to them.

Similar strong sentiments were expressed at other public meetings. On 9 September 1857 at the Lecture Hall in Fair Street, Thomas Chaplin, a solicitor and member of the Southwark Radical Club, said the east end of London had Victoria Park, which the community at large and those of this district helped to obtain; and now let the people of the east end, and others who had this privilege, aid those on this side of the water, and in this district, in obtaining a similar advantage. Why should all other districts of the metropolis have their parks, while those in the Southwark district had only the “Old Islands?” (A reference to the Seven Islands of Rotherhithe) Let them keep the old islands, and the green grass upon them, but not let them relax their exertions in obtaining this object, which would be a boon to the whole of the district. On 6 October 1857, at a meeting in Spa Road, Lewis Wilcher, the secretary of the South Eastern Park Association, commented that while large sums were willingly voted for public buildings, royal dowries and pensions, he thought a small outlay should not be grudged to enable the youth to grow up in strength and vigour. Boys, for want of space to indulge in cricket, trap ball, and other manly sports, were driven to smoking, cheap concert-rooms, and other questionable kinds of amusement. No opportunity was afforded them for the contemplation of the beautiful works of Nature, and the result was moral as well physical deterioration.

The campaign for the Bermondsey plan reached a high point on 16 October 1857 when the South Eastern Park Association presented a petition to the Board of Works signed by over 6,000 people. However, the Board opted for the smaller and cheaper Rotherhithe plan, locating the park more or less where it is today. The decision provoked a good deal of outrage.

On 12 November 1857 the Association held a public meeting in the Green Man Tavern, Old Kent Road, which was described by the contemporary press as “one of the most stormy and disorderly ones we ever witnessed, and will not soon be forgotten by those present.” Emotions ran high. Accusations of personal duplicity were traded across the floor. The Board of Works was lambasted for “its great mistake” in choosing Rotherhithe as the site for the park. The Camberwell representatives at the Board were openly accused of deliberately undermining the Bermondsey plan because they wanted to get a park at Goose Green for their own especial benefit, and to do that, they wished to drive the present park as far as possible from their own district. The meeting descended into “indescribable uproar.”

Southwark Park 6

The Green Man c.1865

I have dwelt on public meetings because in the crowded rooms the formal, restrained language of the memorial was often replaced by passionate words. Criticism of the powerful was voiced openly and vividly. Local affinities were not hidden. Insults and accusations flew. All of which was reported in detail in the local and sometimes national press. The Board of Works, uncomfortable with the controversy, and increasingly preoccupied by London’s drainage needs, postponed implementation of the park until further notice.

From 1858 until 1863 Southwark Park was virtually in limbo. Then the local vestries reignited the dormant campaign. Learning the lessons of disunity which was so damaging in 1857, the vestries conferred and agreed to push once more for the Rotherhithe location. Letters and memorials were sent to the Board of Works. There seems to have been no more disputatious public meetings. In November 1863 another form of words, a notice, was issued by the Board stating its intention to apply to Parliament for powers to create the park. On 28 April 1864 the Southwark Park Act was passed. Its 42 clauses and accompanying schedules may not amount to the most beguiling set of words ever written about the park, but they are surely the most significant.

Putting the words of the Act into force was easier said than done. A combination of complicated land and lease purchases; dilatory design and a sleepy works programme, meant five years passed before the park was completed. During that time the local vestries became increasingly frustrated at the slow rate of progress, and a number of letters of complaint, memorials and deputations were sent to the Board of Works. The local press joined in too, as evidenced by this sarcastic comment published in the South London Press in November 1866: “The mythical park for Southwark came up for conversation at the Metropolitan Board of Works yesterday. The money having been paid for the ground, it is devoted to growing Brussels sprouts, etc., for unknown officials, pending their leisure to design gravel walks on paper and draw specifications for the approved lodges. As only a year has been thus wasted, and £3,300 of the public money expended, the inhabitants of Southwark may hope to see a man and a barrow A.D. 1876, prior to another vote being asked for, as the money now in hand will be paid away that time in interest for the present loan.”

In February 1868 the South London Journal published a letter about the need for the Chairman of the Board, a former Southwark representative, to do something about the delay:

Southwark Park 9

Southwark Park 10

Southwark Park was formally opened on 19 June 1869, and again words played their part on the day. The official ceremony began at 3pm on a very wet Saturday when Chairman Sir John Thwaites arrived with the officers and members of the Metropolitan Board of Works. They and the local MPs John Locke and Austen Henry Layard headed a procession of the great and the good on a tour of the park. During the walk four commemorative trees were planted, and on returning to the platform speeches were made. Sir John Thwaites declared the park open some thirteen years after it had first been proposed. He said “Of the value of parks and open spaces they had all but one opinion, and they were of peculiar value in this crowded district, which was inhabited principally by working people. The design of these parks was to minister to the health of the people and their recreation from toil…such places were calculated not only to improve physical well-being, but also, to raise the standard of moral sensibility. At present, the workman, when he retired to his ill ventilated home, had nowhere to go to, excepting either the taproom or the skittle ground. But he would now be enabled to come here with his wife and children, and breathe the fresh air.”

Sir John’s was the first ever public speech delivered in the park. The second ever was by John Locke, but owing to the discharges of cannon part of his speech was inaudible. He referred to the meeting in the Dun Cow as far back as 1857, and congratulated all on “obtaining this long sought for boon”. Was he being ironic when he said he was grateful to have lived to see the project carried out?

Austen Henry Layard made the most telling speech. He said: “The rain is good for the grass and plants but not so good for human beings…Sir John has alluded to the cost which the park has been to the Metropolis. I will tell Sir John that I believe, in a short time, the cost will be indirectly repaid them through the improved moral and social condition of the people. He has also asked you to take care of the flowers. I am not afraid of that. The time is not long gone by when people were thought incapable of being trusted; but when they were trusted, what was the result? Since I have been First Commissioner of Works, I have not had a single complaint of a flower being plucked, or a tree, plant or shrub injured in any of the parks. We now see the park at its worst. But the time will come, when our children are become men and women, that these trees which have been planted today will have grown to maturity and this park will then be a glory to Southwark.” How right he was.

Southwark Park 11

Austen Henry Layard MP (1813-1894)

An amusing aside to the day concerned the funding of the ceremony. The Board of Works offered nothing, so it fell to the notoriously tight-fisted vestries to foot the bill. The South London Chronicle enjoyed recounting their actions: “Half a dozen parishes, beginning with Rotherhithe in the historical and ancient ‘boroughs of Southwark’, were asked to contribute to the expense of a ‘jollification’, as the modern phrase is for what used to be called in polite circles as a dejeuner, and contributions of £200, £150, £75 and £50 have been made with more or less willingness by the governing bodies. The idea was to give a welcome to the great Elite of the Metropolis and his subordinates, and the notion was at once hospitable and inexpensive on the part of those who proposed it, for they were to give the invitation and join in the feast while others were to pay. There is always somebody ready to spoil sport, and in this event it was Mr. Field of St. Saviour’s, who gladly suggested that they should contribute to “Button Park”, a euphemistic phrase which we take to mean the pockets of the Vestrymen… Mr. Millar and Mr. Burgess in St. George’s also declared against buying a dinner for themselves at the expense of the already over-burdened ratepayers, but the feeling that they ought not to ‘get shabby’ strengthened by the dictum of the vestry clerk and Mr. Collinson, that the expense was allowed by the Metropolis Management Act, counterbalanced any such qualms, and carried the day and £100. In St. Olave’s Mr. Shand had to enact the part of Oliver Twist, and ask ‘for more,’ and almost with the same feeling that he wouldn’t get it; for the joint Dejeuner Committee had pooh-poohed the £50 already voted, and had laughed Mr. Shand into an unauthorised promise of £25 more. Well, he asked, and Mr. Eyell and Mr. Tolhurst gently chided him for taking upon himself so much, and the stout men of St. Olave’s passed the little ‘extra’ rather than make Mr. Shand pay for his promise out of his own pocket.”

In Part 2 we’ll fast forward now to more recent times.

Collection Creatives

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

The Collection Creatives have been meeting every four weeks at Canada Water Library, hearing the stories of objects from the Cuming Collection from our Curator, Judy Aitken. Every month, the group produce poetry and artwork in response to the museum objects and the memories they inspire. Watch this space for a Stay-At-Home special edition of Collection Creatives that you can join in with wherever you are – and here is a glimpse of the group’s work over the last twelve months:

The Lovett Collection is a wealth of superstitious and supposedly magical objects collected by Edward Lovett in the late 19th and early 20th century. You can see many of the objects on the museum’s dedicated pages to Lovett’s Charming World. In May, the Collection Creatives saw some of these objects up close, and the group conjured up their own magicians, poetry and artwork in response.

Coral Necklace by Wes Viola

Later in the Summer we met a collection of goddesses! – from the Egyptian Isis, to the Etruscan Leocothea and beyond. We were struck by the way these evocative figurines from all over the world and thousands of years of history complemented each other. The group were inspired to artwork and poetry.

Egyptian Goddess of the Sky by Cecilia Sobogun

On our suitably bright day in August our theme was the sun – and the moon. We were struck by a ‘man-in-the-moon’ Christmas decoration with a gaping mouth and an insurance plaque from the Sun Insurance Company, among other intriguing objects introduced by Judy Aitken.

WesViola

Then in September as the schools went back, the Collection Creatives saw some artefacts from schools of the past – among them a school bell and an ominous ‘punishment book’. We also reminisced about our own early learning.

The ABC Book by Roland Hallfors

Our next session was focused on teeth and tusks. In times past local docks were host to whaling vessels, and Southwark has whales’ teeth in its collection, as well as an elephant’s tooth the size of your head and a street dentist’s cap – a hat festooned with human teeth and supposedly worn to advertise his trade. The group produced art work and writing – we kept coming back to ‘big or small, we all need our teeth…’

November sees the Illuminate festival in Rotherhithe and Collection Creatives have been part of the programme every year since 2017. This year the theme was ‘Trade’, and we had exclusive access to the old Office Mixing Book from the Peek Frean biscuit factory; full of the original ingredients lists for both well-remembered and long-forgotten treats. One of many curious things about the ingredients listed is the code numbers for different kinds of sugar… this inspired ‘100 Kinds of Sugar’, performed at Illuminate’s Community Show at the end of the festival.

Photographs by Wes White

We marked the threshold of the year with a selection of objects associated with thresholds – real and imaginary doors, doorways and keys; including an ancient key to Bermondsey Abbey and an even-more-ancient-than-that fragment of a doorway for spirits from an Egyptian tomb. Many of the group members kept their creative outcomes from this session to themselves – to see the full range of artwork from the Collection Creatives, you have to come along and join in! But we are glad to present this homely portal by Alison Clayburn.

AlisonClayburn

Most recently, the group had a session focused on lost things. In 2013, Walworth Town Hall where the Cuming Museum was housed was damaged by fire. Although the vast majority of objects survived, one that was lost was a figurine of St Anne, the Patron Saint of Lost Things. This inspired ‘A natural selection’ – figurines modelled on an image of the original, and remembering things lost by the museum’s team and audience – by the artist Janetka Platun in 2015. The group saw these models up close and thought about the different kinds of loss that people experience. The responses shared here included a sketch of St Anne by the workshop leader, Wes, and a pair of poems by Jenny Mitchell. You can find out more about Jenny and her work on her own page on her publisher’s website here.

Everything Has Changed About My Child by Jenny Mitchell

From the Son by Jenny Mitchell

St Anne sketch by Wes Viola

You can join in with Collection Creatives from home in our upcoming Stay-At-Home edition – look out for details on our Twitter feed and in the Stay-At-Home Library.

Southwark in Winter

by Emma Sweeney and Lisa Soverall

Records show that between the 15th and early 19th centuries the River Thames in London was able to freeze over completely. This only happened on average about one year in ten and London’s inhabitants saw it as a great excuse for a party. But why doesn’t the Thames Freeze any more?

A view of London Bridge in 1677 by Abraham Hondius

A view of the old London Bridge in 1677 by Abraham Hondius

In addition to changes to the climate, there were several factors that contributed to the freezing of the Thames.  Firstly, as ice blocks formed and floated down the river they would become wedged in the arches of the old London Bridge (shown above). The spacing was much narrower than in later versions of the bridge. This blockage would then cause the flow of the river to slow and freeze more easily.

The new bridge, built in 1831 had much wider arches.

The new bridge, built in 1831 had much wider arches

Another factor to consider is that the stretch of the Thames that flows through London was wider, shallower and therefore slower than today. The Victoria and Chelsea embankments, which were built in the 19th century made the river deeper and narrower, increasing the speed of flow and preventing it from freezing. Also, the increased size of London has led to an urban heat island effect, absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night. This keeps the temperature high.

Finally, the tributaries that fed the Thames, like the Tyburn,  the Fleet and Earl’s Sluice in Rotherhithe were all restricted to underground culverts as London developed. This reduced the influx of ice.

So the Frost Fairs are no more, but fortunately we have lots of images and resources in our collections at Southwark local History Library and Archive to show us how this tradition evolved over the Centuries.

1564 – 65 

London Bridge 1565

Artist’s impression of festivities under old London Bridge, 1564-65

‘People went over and alongst the Thames on the ise from London Bridge to Westminster. Some plaied at the foot-ball as boldlie there as if it had beene on the drie land’
[Raphael Holinshed]

Contemporary accounts of this winter are difficult to come by. Walter Thornbury gives the following second hand account in Old and New London (1878):

‘A hard frost set in on the 21st of December, 1564. Diversions on the Thames included football and shooting at marks. The courtiers from the Palace of Whitehall mixed with the citizens, and tradition has it that Queen Elizabeth herself walked upon the ice…

…On the night of the 3rd of January however, it began to thaw, and on the 5th there was no ice to be seen on the river.’

1607 – 08

The river showed not now, neither shows it yet, like a river, but like a field; where archers shoot at pricks, while others play football. It is a place of mastery where some wrestle and some run…’
[Cold doings at London attributed to Thomas Dekker]

1607–08 saw the first proper frost fair with a tent city on the Thames. In Thomas Dekker’s dialogue Cold doings at London, a citizen of London describes the spectacle to a visiting countryman:

‘Men, women and children walked over and up and down in such companies; that I verily believe and I dare almost swear it, the one half, if not three parts of the people in the city have been seen going on the Thames.’

London Bridge 1607

Old London Bridge, c.1610. The narrow arches were easily clogged with ice, allowing the river to freeze over

1683 – 84

‘Behold the wonder of the this present age
A famous river now becomes a stage’
[Anon]

London Bridge 1683

The Thames in full party mode. Can you spot Southwark Cathedral?

London diarist, John Evelyn described the range of amusements on the ice this year:

 Some of the stalls sold souvenirs like this glass and silver mug, possibly made in Southwark.‘…sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water’

Some of the stalls sold souvenirs like this glass and silver mug, possibly made in Southwark

1788 – 89

The Silver Thames was frozen o’er,
No difference ‘twixt the stream and shore,
The like no man hath seen before
Except he lived in days of yore’

No sooner had the Thames acquired a sufficient consistence that booths, turn-abouts &c. &c. were erected; the puppet shows, wild beast &c., were transported from every adjacent village; whilst the watermen, that they might draw their usual resources from the water broke in the ice close to the shore, and erected bridges, with toll-bars, to make every passenger pay a halfpenny for getting to the ice.’
[The London Chronicle, 1789]

A view of the Thames from Rotherhithe Stairs January 1789 by G. Samuel

A view of the Thames from Rotherhithe Stairs January 1789 by G. Samuel

1813 – 14: ‘The little ice age’

Behold the Thames is frozen o’er,
Which lately Ships of mighty Burthen bore;
Now different Arts and Pastimes here you see,
But PRINTING claims the Superiority
.’
[Anon]

Among the array of businesses that operated on the ice this year was the printing trade. Ten printing presses were in operation, turning out crude woodcut illustrations and ballads. The route from Blackfriars to the South bank was named ‘City Road’and at one of the many stalls ‘Lapland Mutton’ was on offer at a shilling a slice.

Charles Dickens, one of Southwark’s most famous residents, is responsible for the popular belief that it should always snow at Christmas thanks to A Christmas Carol. When the story was published in 1843 London was experiencing fairly mild winters, but as he wrote, Dickens was probably recollecting his early childhood in the 1810s, when Britain was experiencing the last of the ‘Little Ice Age.’ Six of his first nine Christmases were white and one of these fell in the winter of 1813-14, when the last Frost Fair was held on the Thames.  

London Bridge 1813

It was soon after this last fair that work began on a new London Bridge to allow for easier water flow. The selected design by John Rennie (who had designed both Southwark and Waterloo bridges) was completed by his sons George and John in 1831. The Thames in London has kept on flowing ever since.

Preserving Southwark’s Sporting Heritage

by Chris Scales, Heritage officer

30 September is National Sporting Heritage Day and to celebrate Southwark Archives is showcasing some newly-digitised photographs from the Phil Polglaze collection. Thanks to the generosity of Sporting Heritage and Art Fund we were able to digitise these pictures of Southwark’s sporting past that would otherwise never be seen.

Phil Polglaze was one of Southwark council’s main photographers in the 1980s and 1990s, and he covered local events for the Sparrow newspaper. His photographs show a wide variety of sports events in the borough including local people as well as the occasional celebrity. The newly-digitised pictures show Frank Bruno and Fatima Whitbread mixing with the people of Southwark at sporting events in Southwark Park, the London Youth Games at Crystal Palace and boating at Surrey Docks.

The photos are being displayed in Southwark libraries for Sporting Heritage Day on 30th September and will also be available more widely in 2020 when the Polglaze collection will be put online.

Athletics at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989.

Sports_at_Southwark_Park_1989_10_02_0007 Fatima Whitbread

Fatima Whitbread meets the crowd at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989

Sports_at_Southwark_Park_1989_10_02_0042 Frank Bruno

Frank Bruno poses with some young athletes at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989

 

The London Youth Games, 8 July 1990

London_Youth_Games_1990_07_08_0083

London_Youth_Games_1990_07_08_0035

Boating at Surrey Docks, 26 May 1990

Surrey_Docks_1990_05_26_0054

In search of a ‘lost river’: walking the Earl’s Sluice from Walworth to Rotherhithe with the Walworth HAZ

by Walworth Heritage Action Zone Project Manager, Stephanie Ostrich

The Thames winds through the heart of London, fed by its many tributaries, streams and brooks. Though we cannot see many of these rivers today, they still flow beneath our homes, our streets, and our feet. They also leave tantalising traces on the surface that hint at the rushing ‘lost river’ below.

One such river is the Earl’s Sluice which runs from the heights of Ruskin Park to Rotherhithe and into the Thames. In July, the Walworth Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) and Southwark Council organised a guided walk of part of the Earl’s Sluice from Walworth Road/Camberwell Road to the Thames, based on the walk in Tom Bolton’s book London’s Lost Rivers: A Walkers Guide.

Our intrepid explorers began at the Camberwell Road entrance at Burgess Park: the former terminus of the old Grand Surrey Canal. The canal, built in the early 1800s, was a bustling hub of industry, moving goods from the factories and workshops of Walworth, Camberwell and Peckham to the docks at what is today Surrey Quays; it also ran parallel to the Earls’ Sluice and was our first clue on our search for our lost river. The canal was infilled in the 1970s, and now is highlighted by the straight path running through the centre of Burgess Park.

1. Burgess Park map

Figure 1. Burgess Park used to be a densely packed neighbourhood with housing and industrial buildings lining either side of the former Grand Surrey Canal. This modern map showing Burgess Park (in green) is overlain by a 1940s OS map. The Bridge to Nowhere in Burgess Park once crossed this canal. The Earl’s Sluice forms the parish boundary here. You can see hints of it in the oddly curved rear gardens of properties north of Albany Road. (© Layers of London)

The Earl’s Sluice once flowed as a river through the fields and marshes of south London; this natural feature made an excellent landmark and acted as a boundary along its length for several parishes and boroughs and was also the county boundary between Surrey and Kent. Another clue to its existence beneath our feet was found as we walked one street up, to Boundary Lane. Road names can be excellent clues to what once was here before.

2. Boundary Lane

Figure 2. The Earls’ Sluice once formed the boundary between several parishes and even counties. When the river was covered over, it became a street called Boundary Lane which is still the boundary between Camberwell and Walworth and the postcodes SE17 and SE5.

Up until the 18th century, when Walworth and the Old Kent Road were small villages surrounded by fields and orchards, the river flowed under a bridge at the Walworth Road/Camberwell Road here and turned east to the Thames. It then flowed under another bridge at Old Kent Road. This area was called ‘St Thomas a Watering,’ an important spot on the medieval pilgrimage route from Southwark to Canterbury, made in honour of Thomas a Becket.  It is also the first stop of the travellers in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales where they draw lots to decide who will tell the first tale on their journey, while their horses have a refreshing drink in the Earl’s Sluice. At a site near this spot stands a former pub and boxing hall called St Thomas a Becket – now a Vietnamese restaurant. The pub sign for St Thomas a Becket is still there, a memory of what was once here all those years ago.

3. Rocque 1761

Figure 3. Rocque’s map of 1761 shows bridges crossing the Earl’s sluice south of Walworth village and over the Old Kent Road at ‘St Thos Watering’s’

We walked east along Albany Road in search of more clues of the Earl’s Sluice. In the past, Londoners did not think about littering in the same way as we do today. An easy way of disposing of rubbish – and of poo – was to dump it into the nearby river which would wash it out to sea. Unfortunately years of this meant our rivers eventually became open sewers! By the 1830s and 40s much of the Earls’ Sluice was culverted – covered over with bricks – which was more sanitary and also meant the land could be used for building houses over it. In 1858, a very hot summer made the Thames, which was full of sewage, smell terrible! This became known as ‘The Big Stink’ and because of this, Victorian engineers like Joseph Bazelgette were hired to build large purpose-built sewers across London; this included our Earl’s Sluice, which because diverted into the Earl Main Sewer.

4. 1832

Figure 4. The Earl’s sluice is still open in 1832, running alongside Albany Road, in the bottom left corner of the map, (1832 Plan of London from the United Kingdom Newspaper)

5. 1840 map

Figure 5. By 1840, the Earl’s Sluice west of the Old Kent Road, under what is now the Aylesbury Estate, has disappeared underground (1840 Plan of London from the United Kingdom Newspaper 2nd ed)

So our poor Earls’ Sluice became a stinky sewer in the 19th century, but luckily for us the Victorian engineers left us some more clues to follow on our journey to the Thames. Large, green and functional, these stinkpipes jut out high above the street level and vent gas from the sewer below high into the air far away from our noses. As we walked along Albany Road, crossed Old Kent Road to Rolls Road, and turned onto Rotherhithe New Road and ventured to Surrey Quays we kept our eye out for this big green stinkpipes to make sure we were on the right track!

6. Stinkpipe

Figure 6. One of several tall green stinkpipes venting gases from the Earl’s Sluice and Earls Main Sewer which flows beneath them. This stinkpipe is on a busy junction at Rotherhithe New Road and there are many more along the Earls Main Sewer under Albany Road. These can be seen all over South London (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

The Earl’s Sluice eventually joins the river Peck (from which Peckham gets its name) in South Bermondsey. We followed it as it flows under Eugenia Road and Concorde Way, which is still a boundary between Southwark and Lewisham. At Oldfield Grove, we got a closer look at the Earl’s Sluice as it crosses over the railway line here in an unassuming pipe.

7. Pipe above ground

Figure 7. A glimpse of the Earl’s Sluice crossing the railway line in a pipe (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

At the end of Chilton Grove, we found the Earl Pumping Station, still helping to keep the Sluice and Earl Main Sewer flowing

We carefully ventured onto Plough Way, which was once known as Rogues Lane! Here off a side alley, we inspected two manhole covers. According to Tom Bolton, after rainy weather, you may hear the Earl’s Sluice rushing through the drains these cover.

9.-cover-e1567437508390.jpg

Figure 9. Another Earl’s sluice clue: two manhole covers showing where it still flows below out feet (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

10. 1761 map

Figure 10. In 1761, the Surrey Quays area was still open fields, with only one dock. The Earl’s Sluice ran next to Rogue Lane (now Plough Lane) flowing into the Thames near ‘The New Dock’

Our walk concluded at the South Dock, where the Earl’s Sluice meets the Thames. There is still a sewer outlet here on the foreshore of the Thames. Unfortunately we arrived at our destination 15 minutes before high tide so we could not inspect it ourselves. But it’s given us an excuse to return to the Earl’s Sluice in the future!

11. Thames

Figure 11. Where the Earl’s Sluice meets the Thames (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

Further reading:

London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide by Tom Bolton

londonslostrivers.com/earls-sluice

stinkpipes.blogspot.com

oldmapsonline.org

layersoflondon.org/map

Letters from Ernie: Private Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe in the First World War

By Jennifer Jamieson, Archives Volunteer
With thanks to Lisa Moss, Archives Officer

“Just a line to let you know I am going on alright. Hope you and all at home are the same.”

In 2014 the letters of Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe were donated by his family in digital form to Southwark Local History Library and Archive. Ernest Parker was born in 1893 to Thomas and Sarah Parker. It is likely that he left school aged 11 in 1904 after the death of his father and worked as a clerk for a produce packer.

Private Ernest Parker joined the British forces during the First World War, and embarked for Salonika in November 1916. He sent numerous letters back to his family on Hawkestone Road in Rotherhithe during his time in Greece, offering descriptions of the conditions that he was encountering, his hopes for a safe return home, and always, caring enquiries as to his many other family members (he was one of 8 children!) His notes were always signed affectionately using his nickname “Ernie.” Unfortunately, just as the hostilities had ceased and his return home was within reach, he was admitted to the military hospital with pneumonia and did not recover from the ailment, dying there on the 4th of February 1919. Right until the end, he was finding ways to send his affectionate best wishes back to his family, even asking one of the hospital nurses to write his final letter home.

Southwark Local History Library and Archive has many of these letters and Ernest’s Territorial Force identification card, showing that he was appointed to the Durham Light Infantry during the war.Ernest Parker’s Territorial Force identification card

At Christmas, Ernie sent his greetings back to his family, including this card that was addressed to his sister Ada, and an embroidered card for his Mum, Sarah Louise Parker.

Christmas Card from Salonika

Embroidered Chrismas Card "To my der mother"

Reporting back to his sister Beatrice (whom he called “Beat”) in December 1917, Ernie described his own Christmas season in Salonika, telling her “Well how did you spend your Christmas. We had a decent time here, turkey, Christmas pudding and a pint for dinner. The weather has been rotten here lately, raining nearly every day, up to your eyes in mud…”Letter to Beatrice 27 December 1917

In a letter to his Mum dated August 8, 1918, Ernie described his outlook, that he was soon “going to get leave, well I am in hopes getting it within the next few months or years. I am not sure which.” Yet a month later, in a letter dated September 14, 1918, he reported back to his Mum that “Well I thought we should stand a chance of getting a leave this year but what I see of it now I don’t think it will come off.”

But then another turnaround a few months later, as he wrote to his Mum on November 8, 1918 (image below), “As you say, we have been having some grand news lately. I don’t think it will be long now before it is finished. I don’t think it will be long now before we get home.”Letter from Ernerst to his mother 8 November 1918

He wasn’t able to get home for Christmas that year, but in January 2019, reported back to his Mum that his return home was within reach, save for a few bureaucratic details: “they have started demobilising from here and it is only by a bit of rotten luck that I am not away already. I received a letter from the firm saying that my job was still open but it was not stamped by the Local Advisory Committee at home and that is where the delay is coming in. A couple of chaps received the letters stamped and they were away a few days after. Some of the men over forty one are going home tomorrow.”

Around the same time, on January 21, 1919, he sent a letter to his older brother Tom, who was himself fighting in the First World War, showing that he was happily anticipating his return home: “Well old sport I think this about all I have to tell you now so hoping to see you shortly and wishing you the best of luck. I remain your affectionate brother, Ernie.”Letter to Tom, 21 January 1919

Unfortunately, the documents in our collections then show that for all of Ernie’s hope, optimism and readiness to return, he encountered  even more rotten luck shortly after these letters to his Mum and brother were written. His Mum received a letter written on February 2, 1919, at the military hospital in Greece, reporting that Ernie had caught pneumonia and that “he is very ill, he is getting all the care and attention possible.”Letter 2 February 1919 from Milieary Hospital in Salonika

But worse news was yet to come. On February 6, 2019, the hospital Chaplain sent Ernie’s Mum the unfortunate news that her son had died a few days earlier. In this letter, the Chaplain described how Ernie had shared his fondness for his family up until the end: “He spoke very affectionately of you all, and said he would love to get home. I did not like to tell him I thought he would die, for I did not want to depress him for fear it might go against any chance of recovery. I am greatly grieved about his death. For I had formed a very good opinion of him.”

Ernie had also made an impression on the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge, who also shared her fond words in a letter to his Mum on February 6, 2019: “I asked him the day before he died if he had been writing home, and he said “Yes”, so I said as he was not able to write himself, I would do it for him, And he was pleased, and said to tell you that he was “getting on all right” and to give you and his sisters his love. He was a good patient, always smiling till the last and was conscious right up till an hour or so before he died, which was just before midnight.”Letter from the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge 2 February 1919Blog 9

Ernest “Ernie” Parker received British War and Victory Medals and he was buried at the British Military Cemetery at Mikra, Thessaloniki, Greece “with full military honours”.

Blog 10

Photo courtesy of Janis Birchall.

 

Southwark and the Mayflower Part 3: Rotherhithe

We’ve already explored the history of the Mayflower in Bankside and Bermondsey, and now we’ve come to Rotherhithe, which has more visible monuments to the story than anywhere in London. This is where master mariner Christopher Jones lived and worked and where the ship was finally broken up for timbers.  

Greenland Dock

Christopher Jones, the ‘Captain / Master’ of the Mayflower lived and worked in Deptford, yet his children were baptised at the parish church of St Mary, Rotherhithe. These two apparently contradictory facts help us to pinpoint the location of his home. We can tell from a map of Rotherhithe, drawn in the 1620s that the whole peninsula fell within the parish of St Mary, right down to the Deptford border, and that the eastern shoreline was uninhabited except for the site now occupied by Greenland Dock. A community flourished there, presumably because the natural inlet or creek could be used by ships. Thus the map shows fairly conclusively that this site was the only place that Jones could have been living. It is also very likely that this is where the Mayflower was berthed since the northern shore had no inlets, only a tidal beach.

However, the Mayflower could not have embarked with its cargoes and passengers from Rotherhithe. The Port of London tightly controlled all loading and unloading of cargoes. Furthermore, transporting passengers to the ship with all their possessions and cargo across the Rotherhithe Peninsula would have been very difficult. The only access from London Bridge even by 1696 was along the Redriffe Wall (which was only 10 feet wide) or along West Lane (only 9 feet wide). Historians have always been clear that the Mayflower began its famous transatlantic voyage from either Blackwall or Wapping. As Greenland Dock is nearer to Blackwall, this reinforces the majority opinion.

Christopher Jones Square, Lower Road

On the way from Greenland Dock to St Mary’s Church you might pass this garden, named after the master of the Mayflower. Lower Road contained an abundance of Nonconformist chapels, at least one of which had a connection with the Pilgrim Church.

IMG_0915.JPG

St Mary’s Rotherhithe

St Mary’s Church, St Marychurch Street

The church that stood here in 1620, when Christopher Jones and his crew worshipped inside was built in the 14th century. The building we see today replaced it in the early 18th century.

Jones is buried in the churchyard here, as are some other crew of the Mayflower. A plaque was installed inside the church in his memory in 1965 and a statue was unveiled in the churchyard in 1995.

In 2004 a blue plaque was installed on an outside wall recording the connections between the church and the Mayflower expedition, which are not limited to Jones and the crew. The Rector from 1611 to 1654 was the Puritan, Thomas Gataker. He had many Dutch contacts, including the Pastor of the Dutch church in London and visited the Netherlands in July 1620.

The Mayflower Pub, Rotherhithe Street

This pub, which stands just a few yards from St Mary’s Church very enthusiastically celebrates the Mayflower story. On the wall of the restaurant upstairs you can find a list of the Mayflower passengers. Unfortunately, it has no real connections with the Mayflower but an inn (originally known as The Shippe) has stood in the vicinity since Jones’s time.

Mayflower 1955

The Mayflower pub, c.1950

Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket

This is a modern statue of a Puritan and a young boy surveying, ironically, the history of the USA since the Mayflower. Created by local artist Peter McLean and erected in 1991, it is a fascinating and amusing take on the Pilgrim story.

Surrey Lock, Rotherhithe Street

Rotherhithe was famous for its shipbuilding, ship-repair and ship-breaking businesses and the Mayflower was probably broken up along this stretch of the river. There was a large dry dock here by 1739-46 at the King and Queen Stairs and near what is now the Salt Quay pub was the John Beatson yard – Rotherhithe’s best known shipbreaker. In 1838 the HMS Temeraire was broken up here, and immortalised in a painting by JMW Turner. Surrey Lock, which now occupies this site, was built by the mathematical genius and engineer George Bidder.

Next week: Old Kent Road

 

More tales from the Mystery Object Group

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

Canada Water Library’s Mystery Object Group brings together creative individuals for sessions focused on one or more objects from the Cuming Museum, and other artefacts of local historical interest. The aim is to foster creative responses to the featured artefacts, and we share some of the outcomes on this blog.

Rotherhithe Pottery

The most recent group session was our second field trip, this time to the Rotherhithe Picture Research Library at Sands Film Studios. (To see outcomes from our first field trip, to see the press at the Printworks building, see our previous update.)

This field trip was part of November’s ‘Illuminate Rotherhithe’ celebrations. The Picture Library had a display about the 17th century Rotherhithe Pottery, which operated on the site of the old King Edward III mansion house. This and other potteries along the banks of the Thames often involved people who had moved here from the Netherlands, and they produced ‘English delftware’ using techniques made famous in and around the Dutch town of Delft. Cuming Museum curator Judy Aitken brought a selection of such English delftware found in Southwark.

Water Sprinkler

October included half term week and as a result we welcomed some children into the group to study a replica 16th century ‘water sprinkler’. We were all fascinated and somewhat bewildered by this device, which would have been used to wet dusty floors for sweeping. Placing or removing a thumb on the hole at the top would instantly stop or release the flow of water – although, as you will see in the writing, it seemed to the group to be a bit ‘over-engineered’. Seemingly these sprinklers were very popular hundreds of years ago, however, so they clearly made sense to our ancestors…

MOG 07

Hops Warehouse Lantern

For many years, and well into the 20th century, the hops trade was a big part of the economy in Southwark. In September we had some examples of the trappings of the trade, including a sample packet of hops and a large candle holder. This lantern had spikes which would have enabled workers to secure it in the bags of hops – the group’s first impression of the device was that it looked vicious rather than practical, which again has certainly influenced our writing here.

MOG 03

MOG 05

MOG 04

The ‘Veedee Vibrator’

The sexual connotations in the name of this bizarre-looking medical device are misleading. This and contraptions like it were sold in the late 19th and early 20th century as a kind of mechanical panacea – purported uses included treatment for rheumatism, gout, insomnia, tumours, constipation, deafness… the list goes on, but you get the idea. The ‘Veedee’ part of the name is thought to be a reference to the famous Latin idiom ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ – presumably on the basis it would ‘conquer’ any illness it came across. Tempting while it might be to think that the manufacturers also hoped to hint that the vibrator would also combat venereal disease, the term ‘VD’ in that context only came into usage in 1920, some years after this was on the market.

MOG 02

The Poet’s Bridge in Rotherhithe

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

On Tuesday 5 December, the footbridge over Salter Road was named ‘The Poet’s Bridge’ in a short ceremony which also involved the unveiling of twin weathering steel plaques at its centre. The specific poet for whom the bridge has been named is David Jones, whose epic war poem ‘In Parenthesis’ was described by TS Eliot as “a work of genius” and by WH Auden as “a masterpiece”. It is a quote from this poem that now decorates the bridge:

“The returning sun climbed over the hill, to lessen the shadows of small and great things”

Jones was a visual artist as well as a wordsmith. These words are rendered in the shape of Jones’ calligraphic script and accompanied by a reproduction of his woodcut ‘Holy Ghost as Dove’. The panels were designed by the artist Parm Rai and finished at the workshop in Deptford. The work was funded by Southwark Council through the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe community council.

Plaque with shadows

The local area is significant in Jones’ life and in his writing. A section in his other great written work, ‘The Anathemata’, is titled ‘REDRIFF’; and this features the voice of Eb Bradshaw. In real life Eb was Jones’ grandfather – he was parish clerk of St Mary the Virgin in Rotherhithe, and a maker of masts and sails in the Surrey Docks. Furthermore, a character in ‘In Parenthesis’ is given no name but simply referred to as ‘the man from Rotherhithe’. Before the naming ceremony, Anne Price of the David Jones Society speculated that this character might stand for the author himself. It is therefore very appropriate that David Jones should be commemorated here.

The new name for the bridge, though, can also stand for all poets, and the bridge already has a lyrical history going back to the start of this millennium. Every spring half term for the last seventeen years, the staff of the nearby Rotherhithe Primary School have taken to the bridge to read poems aloud. Headmaster Mickey Kelly – who conceived of and organised the naming of ‘Poet’s Bridge’ with assistance from the ‘Cleaner, Greener, Safer’ fund – describes “letting the words hang in the Rotherhithe air”.

The lines quoted from ‘In Parenthesis’ refer to the minutes before the ‘zero hour’ of the battle of the Somme – the moment when the whistle would trigger the attack in the battle of the Somme – when “the world falls apart at last to siren screech”, as the poem has it. Whilst harking forever back to this moment, the words find new meaning on the bridge, where light shines through the stencilled iron and casts shadows where we walk.

Sign, looking over bridge

Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: The Mayflower Pub

Voting has opened for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote? To help you decide we’ll be featuring one nominee per week over the next 7 weeks of voting.

This week, read on to discover more about The Mayflower Pub

The Mayflower Pub in Rotherhithe Street takes its name from one of the most famous ships in history, but the inn first recorded at this site from around 1550 was known simply as ‘The Shippe’. This is the name by which Captain Christopher Jones would have known it, when in the summer of 1620 he might have popped in on the way to fit out his ship, the Mayflower for its trans-Atlantic voyage. The money for Captain Jones’s pint of ale came from the proceeds of the Mayflower’s regular trips across the Channel, exchanging English woollens for French wine, to Norway with hats, hemp, salt, hops, and vinegar, and perhaps occasionally to the North Atlantic for whaleing.

On its more famous voyage in 1620 the Mayflower carried 102 passengers, some of whom were English puritans, seeking religious freedom in the New World. The ship took several weeks preparing for the trip, moving from Rotherhithe to Southampton and then to Plymouth before setting sail for America, finally arriving there in November of that year.

Mayflower 1931 Joan Bloxam

In 1780, just four years after the United States of America declared its independence The Shippe underwent its first change of name. At that time the voyage of the Mayflower would have been a rather unpatriotic thing to commemorate in England. It was renamed the Spread Eagle and Crown. This conincided with the rebuilding of the inn, bringing it more or less to the configuration that we see today.

During the Second World War the pub was badly damaged, losing most of the upper storey. This was carefully restored to match the ground floor and to retain the character of the original rooms. After the war, Anglo-American relations were seen as something to be celebrated so in 1955 the name The Mayflower was finally assumed.

Mayflower 1955

The Mayflower in 1955, still missing its top floor

The Mayflower Pub still celebrates its transatlantic connections, with both the Union flag and the American stars and stripes waving over the Thames from the outside terrace. To this day it is the only public house licensed to sell postage stamps, so American tourists can easily send a postcard home from Rotherhithe.

In Summary:

A fine pub with a link to Rotherhithe’s proud maritime past and to one of history’s most famous ships. Will you #VoteTheMayflower?

Voting ends on 15 September 2017. You can vote by emailing Southwark Heritage Association: admin@southwark.org.uk or the Southwark News: owen@southwarknews.co.uk. You can also vote in person at all Southwark libraries and at both the Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street and Half Moon, Herne Hill.